Book blogs harm the integrity of serious literature? Read You Bastard cannot help but feel included in this indictment.
Last week The Independent interviewed Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement and judge of this year’s Man Booker Prize. His comments set off a storm of controversy across the book blogosphere, which is generally what happens when you criticize the book blogosphere.
“It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books,” Sir Peter said with some equanimity, “but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same.” He elaborates on his views of blogging:
“…. Eventually that will be to the detriment of literature. It will be bad for readers; as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain’t so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off. There are some important issues here.”
As they say: Snap.
This is not unlike the way traditional journalists have viewed news bloggers for more than a decade. Here comes amateur hour, pilfering the quotes I got from my interviews and forming half-baked opinions (or forming opinions, period). Which I’m doing with this story, by the way.
Blogging is the bridge over the moat. Pedigreed devotees like Sir Peter now have to share the castle keep with the motley rabble, who are more passionate than disciplined in their promotion of books.
“There is a widespread sense in the UK, as well as America, that traditional, confident criticism, based on argument and telling people whether the book is any good, is in decline. Quite unnecessarily.”
I hope he’s not under some powerful delusion that this decline is a new thing. When have literary critics not bemoaned, albeit justifiably, society’s diminishing appreciation for what they do? With all these noisy bloggers, they’re losing control of the conversation. They don’t feel they can effectively do their job of determining the works we ought to value as a culture.
Let’s consider where he’s coming from
…and have a peek at Stothard’s priorities in evaluating literary excellence:
He dismisses the readability tag as a “side issue” on judging novels and concedes the organisers may have chosen him as chair of the judges to avoid similar issues this year.
(I guess we can see another Wolf Hall this time, for better or worse.)
He and book bloggers both love to write about what they read, but the relatability likely ends there:
He cannot remember the last sporting event he went to and has no interest in films, admitting to only ever seeing six films in his lifetime.
This is quite telling. It’s a testament of his devotion to literature– he’s all-in. Of course, anyone who invests his every waking moment to the written word and nothing else is going to be incredibly sensitive to any perceived downtick in the societal value of books.
And if anything, that’s why he’s not the best person to listen to on what the public should be reading. Where’s his perspective? A twelve-year-old could condescend to him on the principles of cinematography and what a corner kick is.
At the risk of sounding democratic, I believe that if someone’s making decisions on what passes and what fails in the literary canon, his agenda should more closely resemble that of an enlightened human being than an antisocial android. I have a towering respect for someone like Stothard in his dedication to literature, but can someone this isolated from the general reading public, as he seems to be, truly be effective in promoting good books? When you champion an author’s achievement while ignoring standards of enjoyability and readability, rather than seeking some combination of these, of course the reading public will find you increasingly irrelevant. If no one wants to read the works you’re preserving, they will not be preserved.
I can think of only one proper fashion of settling this debate. As he is a knight, I beseech Sir Peter get himself armoured and saddle his steed: I would fain meet him in the lists.